Gaspard de la nuit
In this masterclass, Michel Dalberto coaches student Tingan Kuo on creating the right atmosphere in “Ondine” from Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. Since water is a big theme in the poem this piece is based on, Dalberto encourages the student to visualize and emulate the flowing water while playing. This requires a stillness in the tempo and careful balance between the two hands so that the flow is not disrupted. He warns against the use of too much rubato and encourages Kuo to stay vigilant about rhythmic accuracy. Much of the music is marked at a very quiet dynamic; Dalberto demonstrates how to remain expressive and show contrast even within the most pianissimo markings, and highlights the importance of still maintaining a singing quality in the tone. Then, when the dynamic and expressive markings become more extreme, he inspires the student to adhere to them closely to achieve the maximum effect.
Conjuring the imagery of stillness and water.
Keeping a steady tempo and avoiding unnecessary rubato.
Remaining expressive with a singing tone.
Flexibility and equality between the hands.
Paying close attention to dynamics.
Ravel’s 1908 Gaspard de la nuit is a suite of piano pieces in three movements, each inspired by a poem from Aloysius Bertrand’s collection of the same name. The suite is known for its evocative imagery and incredible technical difficulty. The first piece, Ondine, tells the tale of a nymph that seduces male travelers into the depths of her watery home. Written in the difficult key of C-sharp major, with seven sharps, the music depicts Ondine’s bewitching song as well as shimmering water, through tremolos, arpeggios, and fast moving chords. The second piece, Le Gibet, portrays a corpse hanging from the gallows. Sparse and eerie, the loudest dynamic is mezzo-piano. A repeated and persistent B-flat echoes throughout the piece, representing a tolling bell. The finale illustrates the nighttime adventures of the gremlin Scarbo, for whom the piece is named. The music is unstable, dissonant, and tumultuous, and requires an almost unparalleled level of technical agility.
Aim for excellence! You can improve your skills with expert advice. Download the annotated sheet music of this piano masterclass. Please note that this piece has been annotated in accordance to Michel Dalberto’s feedback and comments.
At the age of 20, he won the 1st Mozart Competition in Salzburg and received the Clara Haskil Prize.
Born in Paris in 1955 into a family with origins in the Dauphiné and the Italian Piedmont, Michel Dalberto began playing the piano at the age of three. He played in public for the first time at the age of five and a half, and at the early age of thirteen joined Vlado Perlemuter's class at the Paris Conservatoire.
At the age of twenty, he won the 1st Mozart Competition in Salzburg and was unanimously awarded the Clara Haskil Prize. In 1978, he was awarded the 1st Prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition. Other accolades include the Grand Prix de l'Académie Charles-Cros, the Prix de l'Académie du Disque Français, the Diapason d’Or, and the Echo Prize in Germany.
He has been invited to play in many European music concert halls and venues with some of the most prestigious conductors. Since the beginning of his career, Michel Dalberto has been recognized as one of the leading interpreters of Schubert and Mozart. Moreover, he is the only living pianist to have performed and recorded the complete piano works of Schubert. Recent recordings include the complete chamber music of Fauré with Renaud Capuçon and the Quatuor Ebène (winner of the German Echo Prize), the Schubert cycles 'Winter Journey' and 'Swan Song' with baritone Stephan Genz.
Additionally, Michel Dalberto is a celebrated chamber musician who has played with the world’s greatest instrumentalists. Parallel to his career as a musician, Dalberto has conducted orchestras in Asia and Europe.
He was appointed Professor at the Paris Conservatoire in September 2011 and has a regular relationship with the Tianjin Conservatory. He has previously been invited to give masterclasses at the Accademia Pianistica in Imola, the Hochschule in Hannover, the Royal College in Manchester, and more.
In 1996, the Minister of Culture made him a Chevalier in the National Order of Merit in recognition of his artistic activity.
French composer Maurice Ravel was born in the French southwestern town of Ciboure in 1875. His parents moved to Paris shortly after his birth, and by age seven, Ravel began piano lessons. Five years later, at age twelve, he started composing. He was then admitted to the Conservatoire de Paris as a piano student, but was a very average student; he preferred composition. After graduating from the Conservatoire, he pursued his love for composition and was re-admitted to the prestigious musical institute, studying composition under Fauré.
In the 1900s, he adapted many of his piano compositions into orchestral works before WWI broke out in Europe. Ravel wanted to join, but was too old, and his health was not optimal. He nonetheless succeeded in being enlisted in 1915 as a lorry driver. The war changed him, like many soldiers who struggled to return to “normal” life. The 1920s were prolific for Ravel, as he composed many of his most famous pieces during that time. By the 1930s, he turned his attention to piano concertos.
Unfortunately, Ravel was in a traumatic taxi accident in 1932, which was not treated seriously, but seems to have precipitated an underlying cerebral condition. As his mental health deteriorated and the pain grew, he struggled to work and meet deadlines. In 1937, he had surgery to try and relieve some symptoms, but it only had temporary results, as he slipped into a coma soon after and died that same year at age 62.
Ravel's works list eighty-five works, including many incomplete or abandoned pieces. Among his most successful oeuvres are Boléro, Daphnis et Chloé, Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte, La Valse, Rhapsodie Espagnole, Gaspard de la nuit, Piano Concerto in G Major and Miroirs. He never married or had children and remained very private about his personal life, sparkling many rumors still unverified to this day. He is considered one of the most influential music figures of the 20th century, along with Debussy and Stravinsky.
Photo credit: BNF